In Texas, Abortion Issue Heats Up, Bills Introduced Could Restrict Access

One of the bills would ban all abortions after the fetus reaches 20 weeks.

Heather Busby is executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Texas:

“This bill would basically say at 20 weeks you can’t get an abortion unless your life is in danger. It doesn’t make any exceptions for fetal anomalies, or rape, or incest.”

Busby is worried about that bill, but says it would affect only a small fraction of abortions.

She’s also concerned about Senate Bill 537.

That would require every abortion facility in the state to be licensed for ambulatory surgery. Ambulatory surgery centers do a wide range of complex procedures, from orthopedic surgery to cataract removal.

I stopped by one abortion clinic near downtown Houston to see what the impact would be.

“Well, the physical changes would be the biggest: there’d be at least over a million dollar’s worth of renovations to build it out to meet codes.”

Kathy Kleinfeld is a consultant for the small clinic, which asked not to be named for fear of being targeted.

“When you look at this room, we’re in a procedure room area, it would need to be three times the size it currently is. There needs to be sinks that are hand-free operated sinks, a private dressing area for each patient ... ”

The hands-free sink alone would cost $1,000, Kleinfeld says.

There are 42 abortion clinics in Texas. Only five are currently licensed for ambulatory surgery. If the other clinics can’t upgrade, they’d have to shut down.

Rochelle Tafolla is a spokeswoman for Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast.

“That means you’re going to in one fell swoop wipe out 90 percent of the providers that women rely on when and if they need to end a pregnancy. Plain and simple, it’s about banning abortion statewide.”

But the bill’s backers say they only want to protect patient safety.

Elizabeth Graham is the director of Texas Right to Life.

“Women are making the decision to undergo an abortion, [and] although we are saddened that women still make those decisions, we don’t want them going to a facility that is substandard.”

Governor Rick Perry showed his support at a conservative rally last week in Austin.

“There are those who say asking abortion clinics to live up to the standards of other surgical facilities will be too expensive for them, and they’ll have to close their doors. Well, that’s up to them and their accountants.”

But pro-choice activists say there’s no evidence that abortion has become unsafe, or that the clinics suddenly need a new set of regulations — in fact they point out that abortion is less invasive and less risky than childbirth and many other types of surgery.

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